Our so called education system in America evolved as a decentralized patchwork to which layers of state and federal policies have been added resulting in byzantine structures and lots of unintended consequences.

David Michael Slater is a teacher at Pine Middle School in Reno. He’s also an author of dozens of children’s books. He’s been writing and teaching for over 20 years.

For years, Slater kept a list of dumb ideas and well intentioned initiatives that have grown obsolete. As the list grew, it turned into a book, We’re Doing It Wrong: 25 Ideas in Education That Just Don’t Work—And How to Fix Them.

In the new book, Slater enumerates many of the bad, obsolete, and corrupted ideas that have become part of the basic operating system in American elementary and secondary education. In 25 short chapters Slater exposes some bad assumptions and makes the case for how good ideas have gone bad.


Slater says there is not longer any justification for age-based education (Chapter 1) and the assumption of sameness (Chapter 2). He argues the combination reduced student engagement and has deprofessionalized the work of teaching.

Student-centered education, argues Slater, is a good idea that sometimes goes too far (Chapter 6). There is time and place for direct instruction and teacher led experiences. And similarly, the metaphor of student as client (Chapter 7) is partially to blame for out of control cost of college.

Slater takes on “helicopter parents” (Chapter 13) and absent parents (Chapter 14) arguing for a rational middle ground and a web of youth and family supports. He believes the poverty-caused opportunity gap (Chapter 15) is the biggest issue of our time and needs to be addressed outside of education so that all students can come to school with strong support and good early literacy

We have a writing crisis, said Slaater (Chapter 20). “Colleges say students can’t write at a basic level and it’s getting worse.” He’d like to see more writing across the curriculum. In his middle school, they teach nine types of writing over three years–about one a quarter. It takes several weekends of grading papers every quarter, said Slater, but it’s worth the effort.

What about professional development? Slater said, “PD is a disastrous waste of money.”

For more candid and insightful observations, read We’re Doing it Wrong and visit weredoingitwrong.com.

Key Takeaways from the Podcast

[:16] About today’s episode with David Slater.
[1:11] David’s educational background.
[4:35] When did David start his writing career? And why?
[5:40] How and when David writes.
[6:14] Does David write by-hand or on the computer?
[6:26] The background on his latest nonfiction book, We’re Doing It Wrong.
[8:05] Why is age-based education a problem?
[9:13] One of the reasons why David wrote this book, and one of the main reasons why teachers are leaving the field.
[10:41] David’s take on chapter 6 of his book around student-centered learning.
[12:19] What’s wrong with the metaphor: the student is the client.
[13:44] David’s take on “helicopter parents”.
[15:05] David’s thoughts on absent parents.
[16:25] David and Tom discuss the guidance gap.
[17:40] David talks about the immense issue that is the writing crisis, and how David combats this within the school where he teaches.
[23:43] David’s concerns about automated writing feedback systems.
[25:29] David shares some of the other topics and issues in his book, We’re Doing It Wrong.
[27:30] What David’s next book is on.
[28:35] What David is currently teaching at Pine Middle School and his other endeavor: We’re Doing It Wrong website and podcast.

Mentioned in This Episode

Pine Middle School
We’re Doing It Wrong: 25 Ideas in Education That Just Don’t Work—And How to Fix Them, by David Michael Slater
David Michael Slater’s Amazon Book Page
Health and Science School
Smart Parents: Parenting for Powerful Learning, by Tom Vander Ark, Bonnie Lathram and Carri Schneider
We’re Doing It Wrong Website & Podcast


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